Utah @ Philadelphia, 7 pm, NBATV. The polarizing Sixers are 0-5, but far from the uncompetitive, ragtag bunch they’ve rolled out the past few years. They’ve entered halftime tied or in the lead in three of their games , before falling away late and losing their second halves by a combined 53 points. In games against defending champions Cleveland and likely playoff team Oklahoma City, Brett Brown’s boys had a chance to win on the final possession. Ultimately, though, Gerald Henderson turned the ball over both times, and Philadelphia has yet to win an October or November game since 2013: they’ve kicked off the past two seasons with 17 and 18 consecutive losses.
Brown’s job can’t seriously be in jeopardy, but even for a team that’s been exclusively focused on talent acquisition and development rather than winning basketball games, results have to come eventually. For years, by front office decree and no fault of his own, Brown had a coma-inducing lack of talent on the floor; they’ve finally built something approaching a real NBA roster, now Philadelphia has to figure out a way to transition that into wins. With Joel Embiid the only semi-reliable offensive option the Sixers have to deploy, late-game sets can often take an ugly turn. Saturday night, against Cleveland, Philadelphia turned the ball over on their final FIVE possessions of the game, allowing the champs to remain the only undefeated team in basketball.
Houston @ Washington, 7 pm. Mike D’Antoni just might be having a little bit of fun this season, guys. Houston has four players averaging 30 minutes a game — all take at least six three-pointers a game, and the least-accurate of whom, Eric Gordon, hits 35.7 percent from downtown. James Harden just became the first player in 30 years to put up back-to-back games with 30 points and 15 assists, and looks to join Tiny Archibald as the only players to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season. When he doesn’t shoot the three or dish, Harden remains one of the truly dynamic ball-handlers and finishers in the game.
The Wizards followed up Friday night’s three-point home win over Atlanta with a two-point loss in Orlando the next night. John Wall, who missed Saturday’s contest and will sit out the second game of back-to-backs indefinitely, recently said Markieff Morris “might have a chance to be an All-Star.” That’s a little bit of wishful thinking, but the combo forward is now 27, in the prime of his career, and has his team’s full trust as a starter. Playing off of Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal, Morris is averaging 15 points a night, chipping in 6.2 rebounds a night and hitting nearly 43 percent of his three-point attempts.
Indiana @ Charlotte, 7 pm. Second in the Eastern Conference, with a 4-1 record and 6.2 point average margin of victory, Steve Clifford once again has Charlotte playing defense-first, mistake-free basketball. The Hornets have kept their opponents off the glass, don’t foul, and contest every damn shot put up at their basket, though they’ve unquestionably benefitted from a soft schedule so far. They’ve only played one team with a .500 record, and Boston handed them their only defeat of the young season. Things get much tougher starting this week, with games against the Pacers, Jazz, Raptors, Cavaliers, and Timberwolves coming up in the next nine days as Charlotte’s locker room is starting to resemble a M.A.S.H. unit: Roy Hibbert and Jeremy Lamb are out, Brian Roberts and Christian Wood are questionable tonight after missing the last two games, and Marvin Williams was just cleared for action tonight after a nasty viral infection.
Trying to solve the Hornets’ fourth-ranked defense will be Indiana point guard Jeff Teague, who has struggled to fit in as more of an off-the-ball operator than the fulcrum and offense-initiator that he was in Atlanta. Teague’s rate of shots at the rim has dropped a little since his All-Star season in 2014-15, and his three-pointer has totally abandoned him, but most concerning is his inability to finish in the paint. Once a strong, explosive finisher around the basket, the 28-year-old is making just 26.8 percent of his shots within nine feet. If Teague can’t start getting the ball to the hoop with more consistency, defenses are going to help even less off of Paul George and Monta Ellis, leaving him with even fewer passing options as well.
Orlando @ Chicago, 8 pm. I know he’s going to regress. I know that 13 years of data — 15, really, counting his two seasons of high-level college ball — is more meaningful and predictive than six games. But if he worked on his three-point shot for hundreds of hours over the summer, long enough to overhaul his form and gain the muscle memory to repeat it, I’m coming around to the possibility that Dwyane Wade might have turned himself into a strong shooter. Or at least, not a bad one? Sure, nine of his ten made threes have come in two games, but he hadn’t made four triples in a game since January 2013, and had hit more than four just ONCE. Not even two weeks into the new season, he’s drained four and five in a game, and taking more threes than ever before while sinking them at a 47.6 percent clip.
Fred Hoiberg better hope Wade’s hot shooting is the new normal, because the Bulls have been in a serious tailspin. Since scoring 118 in Brooklyn on Halloween night, Chicago has dropped three straight, cratering in both scoring and preventing points. Losses to Boston, New York, and Indiana — all team with negative net ratings — by increasing margins saw the Bulls allow each team a True Shooting Percentage (a catch-all shooting percentage substitute that recognizes the benefits of free throws and three-pointers) of above .550, while not topping a .488 TS% themselves in any of the contests. Particularly susceptible to the three ball, Chicago allowed a combined 44.3 percent from beyond the arc in this losing streak, against a trio of teams that have shot below 37 percent in their other matchups this year.
Miami @ Oklahoma City, 8 pm. With Ray Allen’s “official” retirement last week, there are only three former Seattle Supersonics remaining in the NBA. Jeff Green, incidentally a part of the trade shipping Allen out of Key Arena, played one year in the Pacific Northwest before the team’s relocation, and has bounced from coast to coast since, suiting up for his fifth franchise in nine seasons now as a member of the Magic. Kevin Durant averaged 20 points a game and won Rookie of the Year in green and yellow, then became a Hall of Famer when the team moved after his freshman season. You might not have heard, but he pretty quietly switched teams this summer, opting to play with his Silicon Valley tech bro buddies in Oakland. And then there’s Nick Collison. The native Iowan so loved his time with the Sonics that he has continued to live there eight years after the Thunder’s debut. That’s right: since Nick Collison joined the NBA, his own team has moved more than he has.
The Heat sit at a very shaky 2-3 — their wins have been over bottom-feeders Orlando and Sacramento, and have dropped games to Charlotte, San Antonio, and Toronto — and are noticeably talent-thin throughout the roster. It’s the sacrifice Pat Riley made when he assembled his super-team, and with four Finals appearances and two titles, it’s a trade he’ll make every day. But eventually, it would come time to pay the piper, and with no last-minute Kevin Durant-to-South Beach miracle, that day is nigh. Goran Dragic is having a resurgent year, making himself more appealing to point guard-needy contenders on his way out the door (how good would Dragic look in black and silver for the playoff run?), averaging 19.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.2 rebounds a game — and Erik Spoelstra needs young reinforcements. Beyond franchise center Hassan Whiteside, who can be counted on as a cornerstone of the next Heat contender? Justice Winslow? Maybe Tyler Johnson? However the rest of the season shakes out, Miami needs to find itself several new parts by next camp.
Detroit @ LA Clippers, 10:30 pm. Whether there ever becomes a metric to corroborate this, but there isn’t another player alive who uses his body as creatively to draw contact as Chris Paul. Such a huge part of Paul’s basketball genius is his awareness and understanding of where all nine other guys on the court are, at all times. Most often, that manifests itself in inch-perfect alley-oops, and a metronomically-precise dribble that he holds until the last possible second, waiting until the defense bends just so before making his move. Sometimes, Paul just feels like drawing some free throws, and puts his body in the way of sprinting giants. Remember when he jumped in front of Jonas Jerebko to stop an intentional foul that would have put DeAndre Jordan on the line?
Paul also has a killer hesitation dribble in his arsenal, and understands not just when to speed up on the court, but when to slow down as well. Whether he’s 90 feet from the basket or driving in the paint, Paul is a threat to slow down while his defender is careening towards him at full speed, turn himself into the contact ass-first, and hustle back on defense two free throws richer.
New Orleans @ Golden State, 10:30 pm. There’s not anything really wrong with the Warriors, right? A couple of key players are just having a couple of perfectly normal slumps at the same time, and the issues are likely very fixable, but SOMETHING is off. After it looked like Golden State had gotten re-tracked, with big wins over Portland and Oklahoma City, they came out flatter than the pre-Aristotle Earth in a nationally-televised matchup with the Lakers on Friday, scoring just 15 in the first quarter on their way to a 20-point defeat.
Now in his seventh season, Thompson has never made below 40 percent of his three-pointers, yet a 2/10 three-point performance actually raised Klay Thompson’s numbers, as he now sits at .196 from deep this year. He’s seeing plenty of clean looks, too, and just can’t seem to find the basket: Thompson is 7-of-36 on threes with no defender within four feet of him and 3-of-24 on shots beyond 25 feet, after sinking over 43 percent in both scenarios last year.